We have learned that one has to be clear about the reason for coming to a live in a monastic environment such as the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB). If the reason is not clearly understood, one may not benefit from what a monastery can offer.
We moved from Pennsylvania to live in the CTTB in October 2004. Our sons Alejandro and Miguel, now 7 and 5, are currently enrolled in the Boys School. My husband and I both teach at the schools. But the wonderful school where all four of us spend the day was not the ultimate reason that had made us come and stay.
While we were living in State College, Pennsylvania, shortly after Miguel was born, we started looking for a school for our sons. We were attracted by the vegetarian lunches, by the school’s beautiful natural setting, classes in Chinese language and culture and meditation which Instilling Goodness, Developing Virtue Boys Schools offered. The school is small, safe, and pure. In an elementary classroom of Kindergarten through second grade, there could be just five students and a staff of three dedicated teachers.
As we learned more about Buddhism, which for me started with the little book by Ven. Rahula—What the Buddha Taught, we started make it our way of living. The Buddha teaches us that all suffering and pain, fear and hatred, come from desire, and it is freedom from desire that frees us from sorrow. These teachings bring peace to the heart. While still in State College, we joined a local Buddhist study group and met with fellow Buddhists every Saturday. We started to have more friends than we had ever had. Conversations were no longer boring. The boys were involved in all the activities—Dharma talks, meditation and volunteer work. Now that we are in CTTB, we get to see our friends almost all the time and can take part in Buddhist ceremonies every day—what else can we ask for in such a conducive environment for the boys?
Then after we left State College, when we were about to leave Spain after a 2-month vacation, I wavered. I asked the boys, should we stay in Spain or go back to CTTB? Miguel, then 3, said without thinking that we should go. “Why?” I asked. “Because it has been a long time since we’ve seen the Buddha.” So we flew from the Mediterranean coast to the Pacific coast, as planned.
Yes, it has to be for the Buddha—to follow the Buddha’s teaching and to associate with noble friends. According to Theravada scripture, once Buddha told Ananda that association with good people, and doing good, is all that the holy life is about. Later I learned from Amitabha Sutra that one of the reasons for desiring to be born in Amitabha’s land is “so one can be with all these noble friends.”
Only through keeping in mind our reason for coming to a monastic environment could we face the tests put to us. A lay family living full-time inside a monastic setting may soon find that what they imagined the experience to be like from a distance, will soon fade from realities in everyday life. Living in a community is similar to living within a large family; misunderstandings and disappointments are likely to follow after initial enthusiasm. A lay family may have to face the sudden income shortage. But if we can remember our purpose, which is to end sorrow, we can become more positive in solving our problems. We may learn to shift our focus to the benefits of living in a monastery.
We have seen a lot of good happen. We both like to teach in small classroom settings where we may get to touch the lives of the children to a greater extent than we would in a large classroom. The job can be very satisfying—we actually have more to learn from our students than they from us. I feel I have to be mindful at all times when I am with my students. They’ve taught us to be patient, flexible and truthful.
Our boys are very receptive to the Buddha’s teachings, too. They love to hear stories about the Buddha and seem to have a keen understanding. Buddha and his noble disciples are their heroes. They’ve learned to chant mantras and meditate in full lotus. Let me close with a little story of Miguel. One day, he looked at me thoughtfully while flipping through a picture book of Buddha:
“Mama, there is still Buddha around, isn’t there?”
“I think so,” I replied, remembering what I’ve read.
“Maybe Dharma Master Jin Fan is a Buddha,” he continued.
“Maybe my English teacher is too.”
“Maybe so. You like them, right?” I said—hiding my surprise.
“They told me stories.” He smiled to himself. “But now the English teacher is not coming anymore. [She became a nun at CTTB.]” Then he looked at me and gave away a big smile:
“Mama, I know you are not a Buddha.”
“Because you are always mad at me.”